Legislation for Upgrading U.S. Ports and Waterways Is Important to Economic Growth
For the first time in six years, Congress is nearing final passage of a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). A bipartisan conference is currently working to reconcile the differences between the two versions of the bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate with overwhelming support earlier this year. As a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I helped draft the Senate version of the legislation.
The pending success of WRDA is a testament to the bipartisan cooperation that exists for keeping the U.S. economy strong and competitive. The legislation offers a comprehensive plan for improving the country’s flood-control projects and modernizing our ports and waterways. Having gone through committee consideration and then floor debate, WRDA could be a rare example of regular order under the dysfunctional direction of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.).
It is easy to see why WRDA is a big win. For one, it has the potential for major job growth – with estimates predicting up to 500,000 new American jobs. The bill would also help ensure U.S. industries have a navigable and cost-effective transportation network to do business. Commerce along America’s waterways is vital to the overall health of the economy. The Mississippi River alone is responsible for more than $100 billion of the nation’s gross domestic product.
I am encouraged by provisions in both the House- and Senate-passed versions of WRDA that make necessary reforms to the process for selecting and funding water resources projects. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, for example, is currently underutilized for maintenance work and dredging at our country’s ports. The fund, which is supported by shippers’ fees and has a surplus, was established for port improvements. Using this money for its intended purpose, as WRDA requires, would help facilitate critical port upgrades. With the completion of the Panama Canal expansion expected in 2015, readying America’s ports for larger cargo ships is needed right away. In an increasingly global marketplace, modernized ports are crucial to our future competitiveness.
Other WRDA provisions seek to ensure fiscal responsibility in today’s tough budget climate. In an effort to lower overall costs, both the House- and Senate-passed versions would streamline project requirements and timelines. They also would allow for greater private contributions to infrastructure repairs and the deauthorization of projects no longer in the national interest. In Mississippi, WRDA would advance the completion of storm protection projects developed after Hurricane Katrina to boost the resilience of our coastal communities.
Responding to Floods and Droughts
Mississippians are well aware that the quality of America’s water resource infrastructure matters to the well-being of our state and economy. These past two years, we have faced very different challenges because of extreme conditions on the Mississippi River. First, historic flooding put flood-control mechanisms to the test. Then, severe drought turned large stretches of the river into sandy beaches. In both cases, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers answered the call for help. These efforts matter to Americans’ everyday lives: Any disruption in the movement of goods along Mississippi River has the potential to affect staple products like corn, grain, and petroleum. When that happens, consumers are often left with higher costs.
I look forward to WRDA’s final passage. I am hopeful it will encourage needed improvements to America’s water infrastructure. Reliable navigation and flood protection are critical to U.S. commerce and beneficial to our country’s future.
– Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker is a former President of the Ole Miss Associated Student Body.